Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is reportedly “stunned” by stories confirming cheating on test scores in Atlanta Public Schools. Why is he stunned that school district cultures are heading in this direction? Is he unaware of the laws that mandate closing of schools that are consistently low-performing on state tests? When asked in the interview linked above, Duncan says he thinks such cheating is actually “very isolated” and he blames a systemic problem. Does he not follow the news in education?
I guess our Secretary of Education missed that story about erase marks in DC Public Schools that came out in May or this one in June that mentioned examples of suspected cheating across the country. Meanwhile, educators and parents from districts across the country have long been expressing concerns about the emphasis on standardized tests and its flawed use as an accountability measure. Among the related concerns, people who have been paying attention cite diluted curriculum, drain on school budgets, closures of neighborhood schools, increase in charter schools, higher levels of educational inequity in impoverished areas, and scapegoating of teachers and corresponding weakening of teachers unions.
I recommend a look at Paul Tough’s New York Times story, in which he discusses the excuses used to defend the emphasis on the test rather than addressing some of the underlying challenges to achievement which are being conveniently swept under the rug in the rhetoric of so-called “reformers”.
Ten years later, you might think that reformers would be feeling triumphant. Spurred in part by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, many states have passed laws reformers have long advocated: allowing for more charter schools, weakening teachers’ tenure protections, compensating teachers in part based on their students’ performance. But in fact, the mood in the reform camp seems increasingly anxious and defensive.
Tough’s story mentions the Secretary of Education’s huffy response to Diane Ravitch’s inquiries about the reality of “miracle schools“, which we have discussed here, acknowledging that factors of poverty in achievement should be more thoughtfully addressed if we really want to improve student achievement.
It’s time for Duncan to examine the real systemic problem and acknowledge that we have not made significant gains for our children over the past decade through our lopsided insistence on accountability through testing. Our Secretary of Education may be stunned and surprised that there was cheating in Atlanta but many educators find this a predictable outcome to very problematic policy.